The controversial boat ramp on Crooked Creek is one big step closer to becoming a reality.
Bay County commissioners awarded the construction contract to Inland Construction and Equipment, Inc. during their Tuesday meeting, clearing the way for work to begin as soon as next week and completion in mid-February 2014. The company's $377,469 proposal was the lowest of six bidders.
It hasn't been smooth sailing for the plan to build the public boat ramp. Citizens formed a group – "Friends of Crooked Creek" – to block the proposal based on cost, potential damage to the pristine waterway and safety hazards posed by speeding boats. But the county kept cruising toward its goal of eliminating the "unofficial" ramp at the bridge on State Road 388.
The contractor's scope of work includes a concrete ramp, wooden dock, bank reinforcement, sod and drainage ponds. The county will build a fishing pier and gravel parking lot.
"I think we've been very careful to consider the conservation side of this and I think within reason we've done everything we can," Commissioner Guy Tunnell said.
"The general public that I hear from is very glad that the boat ramp is moving forward," Commissioner Mike Thomas said. "It will be good access, it won't be dangerous right there by the bridge like it has been and environmentally it will be safe... it's a good move for Bay County."
No one from the citizens group attended Tuesday's meeting; however, members have said in the past that they will monitor the project to ensure the county holds the line on cost and makes good on its promises to protect the environment.
In other business, commissioners agreed to speed up write offs of unpaid utility bills. The board authorized county staff to write off an unpaid account after six months of collection efforts as long as the delinquent amount doesn't exceed $2,500.
According to Paul Lackemacher, Utility Services Director, water and sewer write offs average $60-$70 per account. Under existing policy, accumulated debts were written off every couple of years and totaled approximately $60,000 the last time it occurred.
But Thomas, who cast the lone dissenting vote, didn't want delinquent bills owed by renters written off so easily. "If somebody uses Bay County water, they should pay for it," Thomas said. "I think we should have it where the water and sewer bills that we're supposed to collect stay with that piece of property and the landlord should be responsible for it."
None of the other commissioners supported Thomas' suggestion. According to a local attorney, the only way a landlord could be held liable for delinquent utility bills is if the rental agreement makes the landlord responsible for the payments.